Monday, March 7, 2011

IMNZ Race Report - If you are going through hell, keep going

Ironman New Zealand 2011 - what a day. It will go down with the 2006 race which got blown out into a short bike/run, 2011 will be remembered as the day that the sky cried for us.  Coming from New Zealand we are used to rain and unpredictable weather in summer, but generally if there is rain for a while there will eventually be a break in the weather.  It was almost like someone was taking the piss out of us on Saturday with non-stop rain from early in the morning until the following day. Over the course of my race I think there may have been 30-40mins through out the whole day when it didn't rain.  It was awful.

I had been humming and haa-ing over clothing choice for the bike since I have a history of hypothermia in wet weather, I knew that if I got to the point of the uncontrollable shivers (it doesn't take much for me) my race would be over.  When the pounding rain woke me at 2.30am and I lay in the bed awake for the next 2hrs I decided to add an extra baselayer to my outfit for the day.  I think that was the smartest decision I have ever made in a race.
Pre-race stuff was pretty standard but made very unpleasant by the rain. I was in and out of transition as quickly as I could with tyres pumped up, bottles filled (fronty was already a bit filled with rain water despite my helmet being on top of it) and chain lubed.
Wetsuit on and then down into the water for a quick warm up.  There was the usual Maori waka entertainment plus a minutes silence for the victims of the Christchurch earthquake two weeks ago.
Our race start was 6.45 and it was dark and poor visibility due to the rain - awesome.
Kezzle and I. The last time I would be dry for 11hours

Nervous much?

My favourite part... not. Off went the gun and I assume I got dropped pretty much straight away but since I couldn't see anything its hard to tell.  There was a group of three of us for the first 400-500m or so which was then reduced to two as we lost the feet in front.  I could not see where I was going at all and had to stop and lift up my goggles a couple of times to check.  Luckily the tail-end kayak let me know when we were swimming in the middle of the buoys where we weren't supposed to be.
Can't see much? Neither could I

So it was just me and my friend Laura-Clare Whelan out for a nice Saturday morning swim.  I felt like I was going quite hard but knew when the first AG'ers came past us quite early on that this was not going to be a good swim time for me.  I was actually pretty stuffed by the end but was dreading seeing my time at the end and it turned out to be pretty bad - 1hr 09, my worst swim time in recent years.  Based on how many AG'ers passed us I thought it would be more like 1hr15 so I guess that is something.
I then tripped up the stairs on the way to T1 after being warned that the steps were slippery. Good one.
Hanging my head after a pitiful swim


Had a reasonable T1, struggled to zip my vest up with cold hands and all the helpful volunteers loaded up my pockets with my food.  Had a bit of a chat to Nick Lawson up the Napier-Taupo and then tried to settle in a rhythm from there with lots of men passing me. I felt like quite a fraud with my pro number on being so far behind everyone else.  After about 10-15mins the rain started to come down even harder and already I could feel my spirit breaking.  Its not a good feeling starting a 180km bike ride and wanting to stop already, I was cold and wet and miserable.
I had made the mistake of not pre-opening any of my Em's Cookie Bars and my cold hands were not coping well but I knew I had to eat to keep warm.  Jess Lawson came past me not long into the bike so I stuck with her for the next 60km or so until I grabbed a bottle to fill up fronty from an aid station but was having trouble squeezing the bottle and had to slow right down and lost Jess.
We had a tailwind from Reporoa to Taupo which was one saving grace so the hills before the end of the bike weren't too bad.

The spectators on the course were great in such awful conditions and it certainly pepped me up whenever I saw someone I knew.  My coldness was coming and going and the rain would ease up a bit and then it would hammer down.
I finally managed to overcome my inability to go wees on the bike which was a small ray of sunshine in my dark day, and it was lovely and warm :) I am sure there was more than enough rain to wash it away but I did still feel bad for RooRoo.
Coming down back into Taupo for the first lap is a few long downhills and I started to get very cold and shiverey.  I knew this could be the beginning of the end for me and I had already seen Hannah Lawrence pull out I suspected due to the cold.  There was a time there that I really believed I wasn't going to make it to the end of the bike, despite having 4 layers on top plus arm warmers - I was very cold.  I couldn't believe that people were out there in just tri tops and arm warmers, just looking at them made me shiver.
Hating life

I started to make a slight comeback and generated a bit of heat up the hills of the 2nd lap and started to feel a bit more positive about things.  I finally made it to Reporoa for the last time and concentrated on getting home.  My power had been a bit lower than what I was aiming for but my poor leggies were so cold it was hardly surprising, I didn't think running a marathon on cold legs and numb feet was going to be pretty either.  Finally rolled into town only to realize I had a punctured my rear tyre, a couple of times during the ride I thought the rear felt a bit suspect so it may have been going down for a while.  I had to run the last 20m or so because it was pretty much dead flat at this stage and there was a nasty speed bump at the end, so I rolled into T2 with a 5hr38 bike split which is the same as my 2009 time.  I think that given the conditions I should be happy with that time because 2009 conditions were much better but I'm not sure that my opinion is shared with the Directors of Muppetry.

Started the run and my trusty Gayman told me I was running 4.40's - whoops. It felt so easy. So I slowed right down and aimed to keep it at 5mins/km.  The rain was hammering down and my visor became so waterlogged that it was sliding down my head.  I had given my feet a thorough vas-ing up in T2 but was starting to develop a blister on my arch so I had to have a couple of sit downs in the medical tents over the course to get that fixed.
My 5min pace started to slip a bit above that but would have the odd sub-5min km.  My hip flexor started to get a bit sore by the 7km mark but just niggled away for the next wee while without getting too much worse.
Happy to be off the bike. Peace out Neilio
 5 mile bay came and went and soon I was on my way back to town.  The support on the course was amazing from the spectators and the volunteers, I had BIG JO printed on my ass so got a bit of extra support once people saw that.  My family and Jared and the PooParaders and Neilio and Laura kept me amused by popping up in different places on the course.
The rain never stopped on the run and parts of the footpath were flooded.  Soon I was back in town and heading out for lap number 2, I had come this far I wasn't about to stop now. All I could think about now was the towel that they would wrap around me at the finish.
Resembling a drowned rat

About 25km was when it all caught up on me with my quads starting to seize up.  Maybe a combination of the cold plus lack of run training, or just merely the fact that my legs had had enough.  It was baby steps from here on with a couple of unscheduled walking breaks... My hip was pretty sore and I had popped a few drugs for it, my ITB was getting a bit irritated and everything else just hurt.  I desperately wanted to walk but could only think about how long it would take to get there and my poor supporters who had been out all day in the rain. So I gritted my teeth (literally) and told myself to HTFU.  It wasn't fast but it was faster than walking.
I finally crossed the line with a 3hrs58 run (only about 30mins slower than I was aiming for...) with a total time of 10hrs54 - eek.  While it was noway near the time I had hoped for I am not disappointed because I wanted to quit so, so badly during the race (which many people did) but I didn't, I sucked it up and toughed it out.  It truly was a day of attrition and through no fault of my own since I can not control what the weather does.  I think I prepared myself for the elements as well as I could and short of wearing gloves and knee warmers I believe there is nothing else I could have done to produce a better result.
Don't get me wrong - I am certainly not saying I think I did well and I am certainly not proud of my time but I think I pulled through in a tough situation.  As Winston Churchill said "If you are going through hell, keep going", I went through hell and I came out the other side.
Thank god that is over. Give me my towel

During the race I first decided I never want to race Pro again (unless I can swim at least 60mins) and then that I never want to do Ironman again.  But lets face it - what else would I do if I didn't do Ironman?! I wonder how much I am cut out for it though - I can't swim, I can handle the cold or the wind, I can't get anything to fit me, I'm not good if its too hilly or if its dead flat, etc, the list goes on... I have really been put off racing Pro though unless it is a mass start which it usually isn't, and at the end of the day I can either bring up the rear of the Pro field or bring up the front of the Age Group field (maybe not quite this time...) and I'm leaning towards AG.  I have no plans (and no money) for any future Ironman's this year so can mull it over for a while anyway.
I think my poor bones need a good rest from running now while I get this hip sorted plus I need to work out what the hell to do about my swimming so I may turn into a swim/bike specialist for a few months.
22 of the athletes competing in the weekend were from Christchurch and as a very special touch they got their own race numbers in black and red with the words "Christchurch is my home" printed under their name.  I thought this was such an awesome thing to do for them with all that they have been through and certainly gave me some warm fuzzies when I saw one of the course.

Top efforts from the Lawson's with PB's from both of them and Jess maintaining her 100% Kona qualifying record.  Kezzle-Anne did it tough and didn't quite come away with the result we knew he was capable of but he did the best with what was given to him.  Sammy the Seal had a great first race in such awful conditions so it can only get easier from here.
And obviously Cam Brown and Sam Warriner for their victories and being the toughest of the tough.
Well done Jess

Nick breaks the illusive 10hr mark. The pose says it all - one happy man
Special thanks goes to my supporters to made the trip down to Taupo and suffered nearly as much as me in the rain - Mum, Paul, Roach and Alex, and J-Rad, Davo and Nicky, and Neilio and Laura.  Sorry you all had to wait so long for me...


  1. Nice effort. You had it harder than most, but you stuck it out. Well done..!

  2. Well done Jo.
    I think we all wanted to quit at least once out there in that rain!
    Good on you for keepin' on truckin'